Real Love

It’s like a slap in the face, the stark reality of the poet’s words. It’s the most tragic, the most truly romantic poem I’ve read. It’s love. Not the toothless love of Valentine’s Day. The severe mercy of real love. The kind of love that will save the world.


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking-they were both walking-north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

-Eavan Boland



4 thoughts on “Real Love

  1. “The kind of love that will save the world.”

    Reminds of me what St. Augustine said about love: “Love is the effective willing of the good of the other.”

    Yes, this is what will save the world.

    In the meantime, Happy St. Valentine’s Day friend!

  2. I’ve always loved “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” but I’ve never read this poem by Boland. Thank you so much for posting it! It’s beautiful.

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